A homeless man sleeping in a bin narrowly escaped death after he was nearly dropped into a waste truck’s crusher.

Union leaders have now said urgent action is needed to save its members from potentially killing someone.

Officials from the GMB union, which represents all of Brighton and Hove’s binmen demanded that each vehicle sent out to empty communal bins should have an additional member of staff specifically to check bins before they are emptied.

Mark Turner, GMB branch secretary for Brighton and Hove, said: "It will not cost much but it needs to be done. We are talking about saving lives here."

The move follows an incident where a homeless man was sleeping in one of the communal bins which are being rolled out across the city.

The collection truck, crewed by just the driver, pulled up alongside the bin on Brighton beach and used the CCTV system in its cab to line it up and engage its automatic emptying mechanism.

The bin was hoisted into the air above the vehicle and was about to be emptied into the compactor below when the driver heard terrified screams.

He stopped the mechanism and discovered the man inside the bin, inches away from being tipped into the truck.

Mr Turner said: "This could have a been a very nasty incident, that man could easily have been killed and the driver would have that on his conscience, for no real fault of his own."

He said it would only cost the Brighton and Hove City Council's Cityclean refuse service £32,000 a year to employ two workers to travel with the two communal bin collection vehicles.

His call was backed by councillors, who also raised concerns that the city was in a position where the homeless were resorting to sleeping in bins.

Brighton and Hove City Councillor Paul Elgood said: "Those trucks are potentially lethal. It's a lot for one driver to take responsibility for."

He said having an extra worker would help to address other problems with the bins.

Coun Elgood said: "A second person would be able to clear the items dumped around the bins and close the lids."

Councillor Warren Morgan added: "The council must ensure that crew levels are sufficient to ensure the health and safety of both their staff and the public."

The beach incident this week followed another in Queen's Place, Brighton, in February, where a homeless man sleeping in a shop bin and was tipped into a dustcart operated by commercial waste group Veolia Environmental Services.

The crew realised the man was inside as they emptied the rubbish and hit an emergency stop button to stop him from being crushed.

Brighton and Hove City Councillor Jason Kitcat said: "It is a sad state of our society that people have to resort to sleeping in bins. I would guess they wanted somewhere, anywhere, to shelter from bad weather.

"I suspect it's unlikely extra operatives will be sent out as the whole point of the communal bins was cutting costs but there are lots of issues where if there was a second operative they could do the job better.

"They've probably spent as much money sending out unnecessary leaflets."

The council said it was working with its homelessness team to raise awareness of the dangers of sleeping in communal bins.

A spokeswoman said: "The council is issuing warning stickers to deter rough sleepers from getting inside.

“To employ more people simply to inspect communal bins would not be practical or cost effective. We would not want to put that kind of responsibility onto our staff as someone inside the bin may not be seen even if the bin is checked as they may be covered up by bags or other material."

A spokesman for homeless charity Crisis said: "It is a scandal that people are still having to resort to sleeping rough in such atrocious conditions in the twenty first century."